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Western Press Review: Debating The EU Draft Constitution, Afghanistan Readies For A New Loya Jirga

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 11 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Several major dailies today discuss the EU draft constitution, due to be debated in Brussels beginning tomorrow. Some commentators express their displeasure with the language of the draft, alleging that it needlessly obscures the meaning of the document. Others point out that it fails to resolve some of the outstanding issues plaguing the European Union. Afghanistan is similarly poised to debate its own political future as preparations continue for the opening of a 500-delegate Loya Jirga on 13 December to debate the country's new constitution.

Several of Britain's major dailies discuss the EU draft constitution ahead of the intergovernmental constitutional conference beginning tomorrow in Brussels. Neither Britain's left-leaning "The Guardian" nor more conservative "The Daily Telegraph" has kind words for the document.

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH:

"The Daily Telegraph" calls the constitutional draft a "wretched" document that "greatly increases the power of the [European] Parliament, Commission and Court of Justice." The paper says, "It is a bitter irony that an exercise ostensibly designed to reconnect the European Union with its peoples should have brought forth a convoluted document designed to remove decision-making even further from them."

Drafting the constitution, "an exercise supposed to make the EU more democratic[,] has merely reinforced the tendency to promote ever greater integration regardless of public opinion." Convention on the Future of Europe chief Valery Giscard d'Estaing's "wretched document deserves to be summarily dismissed. Judging by past performance, the more likely outcome is protracted horse-trading resulting in a deliberately abstruse compromise from which all parties can claim victory." The paper asks, "Is this the Europe we want?"

THE GUARDIAN:

"The Guardian's" Catherine Bennett describes the EU's draft constitution as "a document so unwieldy, so rebarbatively phrased, whose sense is so generally elusive to the lay reader, that one can only conclude [that] Valery Giscard d'Estaing and his colleagues deliberately set out to make it unintelligible."

She continues: "While any constitution is likely to contain some obligatory legalese, some pomposity and a fair bit of ugly jargon, the convention's draft abounds in expressions which, even as they attempt to shroud empire-building in a haze of effusions about 'the great [venture],' betray this document's absolute indifference to anything the public might feel about a constitution."

All things considered, the EU convention is full of good intentions, says Bennett. But even when the document states something clearly, "it makes no attempt to sound appealing." The "very ghastliness of the EU document's expression is enlightening." In seeming exasperation she asks, "What kind of people could write this stuff?"

Most of those working on the draft "must have realized the document was, at best, off-putting.... [Whatever] deals and amendments on voting and foreign policy may have, by the end of the weekend, contrived to show the convention's ambitions in a prettier light, nothing can conceal the fact that the EU draft constitution, as initially presented by the convention, is autocratic and undemocratic. What cannot be understood can never be scrutinized."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," columnist William Pfaff says this will be "a crucial weekend" for the debate over a reformed European Union. EU member states remain "far from agreement" on the draft constitution ahead of their meeting in Brussels.

Several main obstacles persist, Pfaff says. The contention over the allocation of power between larger and smaller states continues, in what Pfaff calls a "superficial and faintly sordid" disagreement. The controversy stems from fears that larger EU states will override the will of smaller ones or, conversely, that a union of smaller states could overwhelm the larger and more populous members.

Pfaff says the "political nature of an enlarged Europe" is another outstanding question, related to the debate over mutual defense and formulating an independent EU foreign and security policy. These issues "reflect disagreement over the future relationship of the European Union with the United States -- directly, or indirectly, via NATO." Will the EU establish an independent global role in security and other matters, or will it "remain a client of the United States"?

This debate has raged since the end of the Cold War, Pfaff observes. The summit in Brussels should reveal how Europe will address these issues. "If they fail to reach a satisfactory conclusion," Pfaff says, "a two-speed Europe will eventually result." A two-tiered EU would be comprised of "an integrated core Europe with a political and strategic identity, and a separate group of economic satellites or trading partners," operating nevertheless within the common market.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

Writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Zahid Hussain discusses Afghanistan's scheduled Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly, set to begin on 13 December to debate what kind of constitution the country will have. The choice of a constitution will determine what role Islam will play in the nation's politics and how powerful an executive branch the country will have -- issues Hussain says are "critical" for a country "seeking to establish a democracy after decades of civil war and authoritarian rule." And the choices Afghanistan makes are rife with "broad implications for the stability of this volatile nation and its Central Asian neighbors."

So far, Afghanistan's draft constitution "envisages a strong, directly elected president and seeks to unite the ethnically diverse nation under the banner of Islam." It tries to "reconcile Afghanistan's Islamic tradition with its democratic aspirations." And yet the role of religion in the fledgling government remains one of the most divisive issues, as Islamic parties want Islam to play a greater role in the moral and political life of the state.

THE WASHINGTON TIMES:

An editorial in "The Washington Times" says U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's meeting earlier this month with two Afghan warlords was a "historic" event that "failed to attract the attention it deserves." The paper says his meeting with Abdul Rashid Dostum and Ata Mohammad has been purposefully overlooked by the press, which prefers to present U.S. policy in Afghanistan as a failure.

And yet "Rumsfeld's mission to Mazar-e Sharif represents the first real turning point in bringing the historically factionalized Afghans under the leadership of [Transitional Administration Chairman] Hamid Karzai's government."

Warlords have successfully been persuaded to give up some of their weapons, and the paper says Rumsfeld's visit "was intended to show Ata and Dostum that disarmament and unity with Kabul is the way forward."

However, neither is likely to disarm completely until bargaining over government positions is concluded. Dostum is reportedly holding out for the post of first deputy defense minister. He, for one, is not convinced the war is over since the security situation in the country remains dire. The paper says he is likely only to "yield to Kabul's authority if he has a significant post in fighting what he now sees as an inevitable civil war."

The United States is now "positioned to broker a power-sharing arrangement between Mr. Dostum and Mr. Karzai that satisfies the warlord's requirements for a role in national security, while consolidating Kabul's command of the armed forces." The paper says, "A major turning point has been reached, but you would never know it from the news reports."
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